That statement was used as a club by the House Republicans to beat up on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her earlier remarks that the CIA lied to her on a regular basis. So obviously this letter was in many ways a political move. But there is a high possibility that it was a policy move as well meant to underscore the need to include a provision in the new Intelligence funding bill set to be voted on in the House in the next few days which would require that the WhiteHouse brief more members of Congress on covert actions. The WhiteHouse has reportedly threatened to veto any bill with such a provision.
But now a possibly more important story is emerging. Above and beyond the question of whether or not Congress was properly briefed on this covert program the bigger deal may be what the program is in the first place. Could it be that this covert program is the same one that Seymore Hersch previously referred to as an assassination squad? Sam Stein of HuffPo examines the possibility.
So what are the "significant actions" that these seven lawmakers insist were kept from Congress? Another theory being bandied about concerns an "executive assassination ring" that was allegedly set up and answered to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, building off earlier reporting from the New York Times, dropped news of that ring's apparent existence in a March 2009 discussion sponsored by the University of Minnesota.
"It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," Hersh said. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...
"Congress has no oversight of it," he added. "It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us."
Asked if this was the basis of her letter to Panetta, Eshoo said she could not discuss what was a "highly classified program." She did, however, note that when Panetta told House Intelligence Committee members what it was that had been kept secret, "the whole committee was stunned, even Republicans."
Panetta himself was kept in the dark about the program -- whatever it was -- having only been told about the classified activity on June 23. "His own top leadership didn't even brief him that this program existed," said Eshoo.